By Ramesh Jaura
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – The Buddhist kingdom Bhutan’s report to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development was in many ways exceptional. The holistic goal the landlocked country on the Himalayas’ eastern edge has set itself is the pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
The principal guiding philosophy behind the country’s development process considers GNH “much more meaningful than economic growth alone,” the Bhutanese delegation told the HLPF 2018 at the UN headquarters in New York on July 17, 2018.
Therefore, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) find “a natural and spontaneous place within the framework of GNH sharing a common vision of prosperity, peace, and harmony where no one is left behind,” the Bhutanese delegation said in presenting its Voluntary National Review (VNR) on implementation of SDGs. Lyonpo Namgay Dorji led the delegation.
“Just as GNH is both an ideal to be pursued and a practical tool so too the SDGs inspire and guide sustainable action,” the VNR explained, adding: “Guided by the development paradigm of GNH, Bhutan is committed to realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
In fact, the Government adopted necessary measures to create ownership of the SDGs soon after their adoption in September 2015. Subsequently, policy formulation process requires all proposed policies to be screened through a GNH Policy Screening tool. The 22 variables that assess the social, economic, environmental, cultural, and psychological impacts of proposed public policies are aligned to the principles and goals of sustainable development.
Recognizing the importance of ensuring participation and inclusiveness in aligning the national goals to SDGs, the Government has carried out numerous sensitization and awareness programs for government agencies, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), private sector, parliamentarians, and population at large.
A communications strategy has also been developed to actively engage the stakeholders in localization, implementation, monitoring and reporting of the SDGs. A nationwide citizen survey was conducted on understand people’s aspirations and expectations from the government.
To support the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC)/High Level SDG Committee, the GNHC Secretariat (GNHCS) has been entrusted with the responsibility to coordinate, advise, monitor, evaluate and report progress on the implementation of the SDGs in Bhutan.
GNHCS is the apex agency for central planning and coordination of socio-economic development plans and programs. Within the GNHCS, to ensure smooth implementation and seamless coordination, a dedicated SDG Working Committee has been established.
The committee is led by the Director of GNHCS with the mandate to oversee, facilitate and guide integration, implementation and report progress status. In addition to the institutional mechanisms of the Executive Government, Bhutan has invested in additional checks and balances to help ensure SDG results are achieved.
In the 9th session of Parliament in 2017, the National Assembly adopted a resolution to embed SDG oversight into Parliamentary practice, helping to “institutionalize Parliamentary efforts towards social equity, women’s empowerment and good governance which formed the bedrock of democracy in Bhutan.”
Bhutan will graduate from the Least Developed Country (LDC) category on completion of its 12th Five Year Plan period (2018-2023). The 12th Plan will be Bhutan’s transition plan to non-LDC status during which concerted national efforts will continue towards implementing the SDGs.
According to the VNR, Bhutan is well on track in implementing the SDGs. Having made great progress in its socio-economic development, the incidences of income poverty reduced from 23.2 per cent in 2007 to 8.2 in 2017, while multidimensional poverty fell from 12.7 per cent in 2012 to 5.8 in 2017 respectively. Income inequality, on average, has remained at a minimal level; and the economy has grown at an average of 7.5 per cent along with structural changes.
The share of the industry to total GDP has increased to 41.5 per cent in 2016 from 11.5 per cent in 1980, and service sector contributed about 42 per cent to the total GDP. Bhutan’s population today is increasingly urbanized, young, and educated with half the population below 28 years; and unemployment under 2.5 per cent.
Despite the progress made, Bhutan is confronted with challenges in ensuring that no one is left behind. In the 12th FYP, Bhutan aims to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and address the needs of vulnerable groups. It endeavours to reduce income and multidimensional poverty to less than 5 per cent.
The Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality of a distribution) increased slightly to 0.38 in 2017 from 0.36 in 2012, indicating a need to assess existing policies and programmes. Further, addressing the needs of vulnerable groups through targeted interventions is a priority. Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls has been identified as one of the sixteen national key result areas. Fourteen different vulnerable groups have been identified through a Vulnerability Baseline Assessment. Bhutan is currently in the process of drafting the National Disability Policy and National Gender Equality Policy.
Enhancing productive capacity to develop economic resilience is vital to sustainable graduation and achieving the SDGs. While the economy has grown steadily over the years, hydropower remains to be the major contributor to the economy and efforts to optimally tap the potential of this resource continues.
Bhutan aims to diversify investments into tourism, organic agriculture, mining, and cottage and small industries, with the objective to increase the share of national revenue from non-hydro sectors to over 75 per cent and attract approximately USD150 million in foreign direct investments (FDIs).
Although the overall unemployment is low, youth unemployment remains high at 11 per cent. Initiatives will therefore be undertaken to establish ‘entrepreneurship ecosystem’ so as to provide a platform for innovation to generate green jobs through the participation of corporate and private sectors.
Bhutan aims to further develop its human capital and needs to take advantage of its demographic dividend. While tremendous progress has been made in education with near 100 percent school enrolment, initiatives to improve the quality of education including learning outcomes, inculcate innovative and creative mindset, and enhancing employability will be undertaken.
Sustainable graduation and effective implementation of the Agenda 2030 are contingent on the availability of adequate and timely resources. This necessitates a Financing Needs Assessment to develop a resource mobilization strategy for the effective implementation of the SDGs.
Bhutan will explore both domestic and external financing mechanisms. Measures to increase domestic revenues through expansion of tax base and improvement in revenue collection systems will be pursued. Given Bhutan’s effective implementation of official development assistance (ODA) and its relations with international development partners, Bhutan will further explore innovative financing opportunities with multilateral and bilateral partners.
FDI and PPP (purchasing power parity) will be key financing measures; and efforts to improve the ease of doing business are ongoing. In view of Bhutan’s commitment to conservation, international green financing opportunities will also be explored.
Bhutan looks forward to receiving the support of the international community to ensure the hard earned developmental gains are not derailed by the perils of climate change and natural disaster; and that the institutional capacity including human resources are in place.
Bhutan has committed to remaining carbon neutral and the Nationally Determined Contribution in place. Bhutan has successfully implemented the National Adaptation Programme of Action tackling urgent climate needs, and National Adaptation Plan is under formulation. In additon, disaster management initiatives are underway at national and local levels to improve disaster preparedness and response.
However, diverse challenges confront the sector. Growing demands for water, energy, and food, in addition to climate change induced and other disasters which are increasing in frequency and intensity, exacerbate the already vulnerable ecology.
Adverse impact of climate change is aggravating water problem and its quality is deteriorating in and around the urban areas. Air quality is deteriorating, particularly in urban centers, industrial area and along the southern border of the country. Waste management is also becoming a major emerging environmental issue for Bhutan.
According to the VNR, 30 per cent of Bhutan’s economic activity is highly susceptible to impacts of climate change, and Bhutan is projected to experience increase in average temperatures that is three times the global average in the next 50 years.
The road arteries that enable farmers’ access to market and the importation of fuel, rice, and medicine are increasingly vulnerable to landslides with rising cost of recovery from post-monsoon infrastructure damage. The threat of hydro-meteorological and, geological disasters due to climate risks are increasing while technical and academic capacities to generate and use climate information is low with high data gaps. Awareness and behavioral change on the impact of climate change at the community level are also modest.
Keeping with the commitment of “carbon neutral” development, Bhutan has developed sectoral strategies on waste, transport, industry and the elaboration of GHG mitigation measures in three sectors of human settlement, industry and energy efficiency.
Bhutan needs investment to adapt to these changing situations. Climate change threat presents the single greatest risk of derailing decades of development gains achieved in Bhutan. There is a need to build national capacity to understand the climate change pathways more intricately among the sectors, build innovative capacity to develop local solutions and, above all, the investments required to deal with impacts of climate change and to remain carbon neutral are huge. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 July 2018]
Photo: Bhutanese delegation reporting progress in implementing Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: www.mfa.gov.bt
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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